Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on February 25, 2009
On March 10, 1959, Tibetans began an uprising against Chinese rule. A few days later, the Dalai Lama left Lhasa and went into exile in India. He has never returned. With the 50th anniversary of the failed revolt approaching, the Dalai Lama is warning his supporters about “an unprecedented and unimaginable forceful crackdown” in Tibet. Last March, there were bloody protests in Tibet; in a statement posted on the official website of his government in exile to mark the Tibetan New Year, the Dalai Lama says “the occasion of this New Year is certainly not a period when we can have the usual celebrations and gaiety.” While there were some signs last year that the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama were making some progress in thawing ties, his New Year’s statement shows relations are again in the deep freeze. According to the Dalai Lama, China’s intention is “to subject the Tibetan people to such a level of cruelty and harassment that they will not be able tolerate and thus be forced to remonstrate.” To avoid further bloodshed, the Dalai Lama’s statement adds, “I would like to make a strong appeal to the Tibetan people to exercise patience and not to give in to these provocations.” For its part, the Chinese government has said it will “firmly crush the savage aggression of the Dalai clique,” according to the AFP.
The Western business community no doubt is hoping Tibetans heed the Dalai Lama’s call. Last year’s demonstrations in Tibet, followed soon after by pro-Tibet protests in London, Paris and other Western cities, prompted a strong backlash inside China against companies that allegedly were anti-China or based in countries that had shown support for the Dalai Lama. See, for example, this BusinessWeek story by my colleague Dexter Roberts about the struggles that French retailer Carrefour had in China after French politicians spoke critically of Beijing’s Tibet policies.
You can bet President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are hoping for a quiet anniversary, too. Hillary earned condemnation from pro-Tibet activists during her Asia trip last week when she indicated Tibet wasn’t even close to the top of her agenda during talks with China’s leaders. As AFP reported the day before Clinton sat down for talks in Beijing, “Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet. ‘But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,’ Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.” Last year, when the world was focusing on the Beijing Olympics and the global economy still seemed strong, governments might have been willing to press China on the Tibetan issue. That’s not going to happen now, not with so many countries looking to Beijing to help get the world out of its economic mess. The Dalai Lama must realize this, and his call for quiet therefore is, among other things, good politics.